What does one do with daylight?

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot

I suppose one of the great questions has always been about what to do with daylight. Musicians are always concerned about time, in more senses than one. Most of us suffer from a lack of it, wishing that there were more hours in the day to do that which has to be done. We need time for creation, for envisioning, for practicing, and for production.

We need to have time to directly face and answer the questions that need answering, and don’t have the luxury of long periods of rumination.

I know relatively little about Modernist poetry except for the important bits. What I do know is that such poetry was the antithesis to Romanticism and its passion and idealism, especially after the events of World War I. Such poetry was written to be deliberately difficult to read and to interpret, with the poet sprinkling allusions to Western literature throughout the work. Eliot seems to expect his readers to understand some of the obscurities he puts in there. Even scholars remark that they can’t “get” all of Eliot.

Another important factor is that a lot of T. S. Eliot’s poetry seems to be a response against an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness in society at the time: a loneliness that still exists. Eliot’s “Prufrock” is no exception. The images are confusing, strange, and jarring, as seen in the opening few lines with the comparison of the evening “spread across the sky” to a patient “etherized on a table.” This isn’t the most pleasing image, or the most satisfying one. In fact, it gives the reader a strong sense of dissatisfaction from the very outset, and continues this undercurrent of loneliness, hesitation, and ultimate despair throughout the rest of the poem.

Excerpt from epigraph: Dantes Inferno

This poem is bleak. It’s not a poem written for a distraction during an afternoon tea break. It’s a poem that has to be read over and over before getting some sort of understanding of it. It’s not light, fun poetry, though there is a certain rhythm and flow, a beauty to the construction, that makes it sound nice when you read it.

There are two main interpretations of the poem. One of them is about loneliness: a middle-aged man is interested in a woman, and wants to ask her out but simply cannot bring himself to and ultimately decides against it. The other is on a larger scale. This middle-aged man finds himself faced with the overwhelming question of what to do with his life. Time is passing by, and he simply can’t bring himself to do anything with it, instead choosing to dance around the “overwhelming question” rather than answer it. Either way, he ultimately fails. I think it could be both, though I favor the latter over the former.

And yet, it expresses a helplessness that many can identify with.

The particular passage quoted at the beginning of this post happens to be an allusion to the book Ecclesiastes, from the Old Testament:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Spoiler alert: he doesnt

Clearly Prufrock has a good point: there is a time and a place for everything that needs to be done. However, the problem is that he uses it as a rationale for delaying what should be done, whether it’s asking that girl out, or actually finding some purpose for his life. He repeats the statement “there is time, there is time” over and over, this repetition juxtaposed by his lament that he is getting old.  As the reader “sees” Prufrock pacing back and forth upon the stair, wondering about the question on his plate, wondering how he should begin, the reader can’t help but be frustrated by his indecision to do whatever it is he’s thinking about doing.

Time is indeed running out for him after all.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair…

He seems to be trying to stretch out the little time he has left, dragging the moments out until it has passed and there is only empty rationalization. His obsession with time can be explained by his vivid awareness that he has little left. His indecision is not helping.

Poems like this beg the “overwhelming” question of this day and age: But what if there is no more time? If then, what have you done with it? In some senses, this poem offers a challenge to the reader to make what they will of what they have.

When have we been guilty of thinking that there is time, when in fact time is running out?

Near the end of the poem, Prufrock states that he is not the tragic hero. He’s not Prince Hamlet by any means… he reduces himself to first the “attendant lord,” the adviser, and finally the fool. Perhaps what he is coming to realize is that the real tragedy is in not taking the courage to do anything, until it is too late and time has run out for him. Perhaps in that sense, anyone can be the tragic figure for simply letting time pass by, as Prufrock has done.

There’s a fantastical line near the end about Prufrock watching mermaids singing on the beach, and then realizing, crestfallen:

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Time. Of it I have little.

Ultimately, the great question may be whether by the end of my life, I have dared to take risks… whether I have done not only that which I am supposed to do but that which I want to do…

Do I dare?

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Announcement

I’m having trouble keeping up with returning comments, and the semester just started. I have a ridiculously busy semester, with a lot more responsibilities than I anticipated (but that’s a good thing!) and I’m sorry, but I think I have to put the blogging temporarily on hold once more, at least until summer break. Or at least until people stop pulling the fire alarms in my dorm building at three in the morning so I can get some good rest.

It will pass faster than you know it!

Either that or I think I’ll try to update once a week and return all comments then. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to give up blogging altogether, like I did last semester.

Thank you for your support and all your comments! They mean a lot to me!

i hear in my mind all of these words

Sometimes we forget that words are very much alive. That we can use them like swords, and that people can fall from the hearing. It is eerily easy to make someone feel as if they want to die by a few mis-chosen words. This example should be evidence for that.

New York Times article:

The seemingly empathetic nurse struck up conversations over the Internet with people who were pondering suicide. She told them what methods worked best. She told some that it was all right to let go, that they would be better in heaven, and entered into suicide pacts with others.

But the police say the nurse, who sometimes called herself Cami and described herself as a young woman, was actually William F. Melchert-Dinkel, a 47-year-old husband and father from Faribault, Minn., who now stands charged with two counts of aiding suicide.

How chilling is this? It’s an example of someone who used the wrong words quite skillfully. Many of them actually fell for it. The combination of someone who seemed very sympathetic, while encouraging them to go find a rope to hang themselves, and their vulnerability.

While definitely not as bad as this example, I know that I can be someone who is at fault of using words carelessly. There have been people who have been hurt from the things I’ve said, long ago, who still hold those words inside their hands, even now, though they hurt at the remembering. I regret that.

It’s frightening when I think of how powerfully words could be used for all the wrong reasons. As a writer, I have that power. I could say all the right things to a person, but then again, it is so easy to slip into saying all the wrong things and making them feel even worse than they already do. It’s sobering. And almost makes me want to stop writing, sometimes.

But words can be beautiful things. They can be used to build as well as to pull down, to strengthen as well as to weaken, to love as well as to hate, to heal as well as to wound, to forgive as well as to

By them we can cast stones, aspersions, judgements of worth. Perhaps that is the most dangerous of all.

I hope to be the kind of person who handles words as if they were the most precious of beach glass, slowly formed by the wearing of time and the sea, and not as the stones cast at the woman in the street.

And to the photographer of the first picture, you are so incredibly brave…

Always Give Credit Where It’s Due

During high school, I took a course for college credit at the local community college. This course was in writing/composition.

The professor was old, Jewish, bald, and had a pronounced muffin top.

He was wonderful.

1607445795_86de0db0f8That was one of my favorite classes at that college, ever. Besides Psychology. I can credit him as the person who got me to really tighten up my writing. He also introduced me to the art of making outlines, as well as teaching me how to argue tightly and correctly.

Another thing I remember about him is that he hated plagiarism. Really hated it. He hated it so much that he would rather have someone turn in their own written work that had horrible grammar, punctuation, and style than turn in a beautifully written composition that was so obviously not theirs.

Of course, as an English professor, he’d faced many cases where the student had plagiarized. Every semester, he’d see at least one person who foolishly thought they could get away with it and turned in work that was not their own. He told us that he could tell when some poor fellow had plagiarized because the work they handed in would be so unlike their usual work. He’d google the keywords, and sure enough, he’d find the original document out there on the web! “If you can find it on the web, I can find it too.”

Then he confronted the poor fellow, and the result, sometimes, was much tears and “Don’t expel me, professor! The devil made me do it!”

Don’t be stupid, and don’t do something that you’ll get caught at in the first place.

695486764_1a237b0789So before we attempted to write any composition, he would lay down the rules for us. From the book he wrote for the class, plagiarism results when you do not give credit to others for their words or ideas. It’s unacceptable, period. At the community college I attended, penalties ranged from failing the paper to being expelled from that school. It was that serious. Even in cases of accidental plagiarism, it’s a serious offense, he says. (Regarding accidental cases, one of my friends used too many quotes in one of his papers. Quotes are ok, but he totally went overboard in the teacher’s eyes, and the teacher gave him a failing grade.)

Here are a few of his rules from his book, paraphrased.

  • Do not copy the words of someone else and pass them off as your own work.
  • When you do use the words of someone else, credit them to the writer. Use quotation structures with direct quotes, colons, etc.
  • Credit the source when you paraphrase.
  • Reference info that is not common knowledge.
  • You don’t have to reference common knowledge. (i.e., smoking is common in USA)
  • Reference any charts, tables, illustrations, or diagrams.

Failure to do so could result in punitive action, or an “F” for the whole course.

This professor kindly said that we would receive correction, guidance, and would be given a chance to rewrite if our work was not up to par. There wasn’t any reason to fear a bad grade and use the work of others as a result. To his credit, he lived up to his words. His corrections were always clear, and understandable. I still remember him as one of the most helpful professors that I had. He even offered to do one-on-one time if anyone needed such.

52003212_cdaed75ca3

Plus he ended the course earlier because I had finished all my work.

He concluded by saying that if he ever suspected any of us of plagiarism, he would hunt us down.

So why am I writing this?

One of my blogger acquaintances has declared July 17th to be anti-plagiarism day. This is her blog post about the fact.

Basically, she recently encountered a nasty case of plagiarism. A writer she had close dealings with went too far in his search for inspiration, to the point where he plagiarized. He even won a cash prize for a story that was plagiarized! Sadly, he insisted that he had done nothing wrong. The writer speculates that perhaps he wasn’t even aware of how deeply he hurt his friends and his own reputation.

He didn’t mean malice. He just didn’t think that what he had done was stealing. Maybe he still doesn’t know what’s acceptable or unacceptable when looking for inspiration.

3166149939_c294f81cae

The blogger then says,

I’m declaring Friday 17 July Anti-Plagiarism Day. On that day I’m going to blog about plagiarism, and I’d like you to do the same: on your own blogs, on message boards, on Facebook or Twitter: anywhere where writers congregate.

I was horrified when I read her account. On a thread on Absolute Write forums, she added that this person had collaborated with ANOTHER writer to write a book, and now that book cannot be published because people believe that his contributions are not his. It’s horrible when someone gets work for something that he didn’t do. It’s even worse that other people got hurt because of what he had done.

So today, I encourage you to think about this issue. And please, if you are a blogger, write a blog post about this.

Always give credit where it’s due.

Picture credits: quiroso, -Gep-, untitled 13, and Melody.

Writer to writer meme

I found this questionnaire thing on Bettie’s blog, and she found on Isaac’s blog, who found it somewhere else. It’s pretty fun. Made me think about the answers.

1) Where do you write?

It depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing poetry, I just write it directly on the laptop, which sits next to my bed. Though I can carry my laptop around. If I’m writing articles, I start with a rough draft written out in longhand on my desk. My VERY messy desk. Though I got fed up and cleaned it out when I couldn’t find something the other day.

2) When do you write?

I am a student, and this is summer break. Whenever I can find time. So that means every day for now. When school starts in a matter of months I don’t know how things are going to work out. However, I will try to write every day. I want to keep on writing as long as I’m living and breathing. I love writing.

Picture from Flickr, made by a.drian

Picture from Flickr, taken by a.drian

3) Planner or Pantser?

Pantser here too! I just go where the story takes me. However, it’s sometimes really good to plan, depending on what the subject matter is for me. But then when I’m enjoying the writing process and I’m really involved with what I’m writing, everything just flows together smoothly and I don’t have to stop to outline or anything like that. Plus I think I’m one of those people who can keep outlines in their heads.

4) Coffee or tea?

Tea! I love herbal tea. Can never get enough tea. I don’t drink tea right now because I don’t have any. I like coffee ice cream, though. Never could get used to the drink. And I don’t like it enough besides.

5) Pen and paper, or computer?

35531600_86a228120fPen and paper for my longhand drafts, of course. But the computer for tapping everything down. I love journals, like my friend Bettie. I have tons of journals for writing and I buy them faster than I can fill them up. The one I have right now is a clothbound journal I got on sale at a bookstore. I like the lined ones, spiralbound AND clothbound. Leather is cool too but expensive.

6) What gets you in the writing mood?

Reading a good piece of writing, reading a blog that really gets me thinking, or the rain. Rain makes me feel like writing. Or reading something really goofy and what the heck… those kinds of stuff are really great for my perfect lady blog. If I think about a subject enough that usually gets me started immediately.

7) What pulls you out of the writing mood?

If something’s really annoying me. Or if I’m in a bad mood. Also worrying about money and whether I’ll get accepted or rejected. I have a pretty annoying crush who can pull me out of the mood in the blink of an eye.

8) What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever read/heard/received?

Write a lot. Keep writing. Keep persisting. Keep reading.

9) Got muse?

God. Rain. I write what God leads me to write. I think rain always makes me contemplative. I feel like writing poetry about God and the rain. And then I usually end up doing so. Ha.

10) Who is the biggest supporter of your writing?

431030294_a7bdf8b7e0My family. They think everything I write is so wonderful. My mom wants me to print every single thing out and give it to her. And she thinks that I’ll eventually write a book. Yeah, I have a great family. My siblings follow my blogs and sometimes they comment.

11) Sound or silence?

Sound. I’m a wannabe music major so of course music. Though it can be distracting, trying to sing along while banging something out. But I’m also a musician, and music can get me inspired. I play piano and I sing occasionally. I like Taylor Swift, Yiruma, Joe Hisaishi, and the classics. I’m also falling in love with Switchfoot.

As a pianist sometimes it helps to go to a piano and improvise a little or play from memory. Gets my creativity on.

If you want to fill this out, go HERE for the rules.

Gathering Blue

2305107302_7ac892f389I first read The Giver during elementary school. My  mom made me read it. But I loved it, though I admit that I found it disturbing. A world that is perfect in every way… each family is happy and loving and good-looking. Yet, and I’m sure I remember correctly, all the deformed people are killed or sent away. There was no place for them in that futuristic paradise. My 9 year old mind couldn’t quite comprehend what the author wanted to say, except that the kind of thinking that the people in the novel had was bad. My 14 year old mind could have understood more fully.

But both minds always wondered what had happened to Jonas. Recently, I was on Absolute Write’s forums and someone mentioned that Lois Lowry had written two books to follow The Giver.

GatheringBlueWhoa. Why didn’t anyone tell me? It would have saved a lot of worry and stress and sleepless nights wondering what had happened to poor Jonas!

Gathering Blue was published in 2000, about six years after the publication date of The Giver. The story runs along the same vein. Kira is a teenaged girl living in a futuristic village, a village that leaves the maimed or weak for dead in the wild. Her mother has just died, and her father had died years ago. “Taken by beasts,” they had always told her. To make matters worse, Kira had been born with a twisted leg. According to the rules of the village, she should have been left out to die when she was born. With her twisted leg, Kira will always be unable to work in the fields or contribute to society through hard labor. Or so they say.

Though the villagers allowed Kira to live, they openly despised her. Her only friend is a young boy named Matt.

626409180_f17f7db7a1After a disagreement with a villager woman, the Council of Guardians summons Kira to be judged. However, she realizes that they have plans for her. Her almost magical talent, that of weaving and creating patterns with a needle and thread, can be put to good use. But Kira finds that things aren’t as perfect as they outwardly seem. What she finds will change her world forever.

We actually don’t find out what happens to Jonas until the book after this one.

2545869886_c4b9741b5bI found this book a quick read. Lowry crafted the story so well that I could see it in my mind. It’s deeply horrifying in parts, like the part where Kira finds that the Singer, a man deeply revered and honored in the village, has his legs chained together all the time. Whenever he walks, a trail of blood follows because of the chains digging into his flesh. However, Lowry emphasizes in the novel that in spite of the horribleness of such a society, hope exists.

At the same time, the writer raises some important concerns. What kind of world or society do we want to have? What kind of society are we building right now? If we’re not careful, we could head into a society where deformed infants are left to die and adults with broken limbs are put to death quietly. People who are unwanted are murdered. All in the pursuit of perfection — is that what we want?